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Charlie Higson's Guide To Movie Zombies

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Charlie Higson started out as a punk singer before becoming a novelist writing violent adult farces like King Of The Ants and Getting Rid Of Mister Kitchen, and, of course, a comedy writer and performer with Harry Enfield and The Fast Show. In recent years he’s turned to writing for children with the 'Young Bond' series, and now with 'The Enemy' books, set in a Britain where all the adults have been rubbed out by a zombie infection, leaving the immune kids to fend for themselves.

Higson is unleashing part 3, The Fear, and to mark the occasion, he took us through his favourite zombie movies. “I grew up watching loads of horror movies as a teenager”, says Higson, “and I still do; some of my favourite films are horror films. With The Enemy I thought I’d try and give younger kids that same kick that I got from watching things like...”

Director: Victor Halperin

"Before Romero, the original idea of the textbook zombie is that they’re not actually dead things that have come to life. They’re someone under the influence of a voodoo priest. They appear to die, believe themselves dead, are declared dead, and are then 'revived' by said priest and become his slave. It’s a kind of mind-control, hypnosis thing: a kind of fantastic metaphor for how religion works, really. We all become zombie slaves of the priest, and get brainwashed into believing their nonsense! So that for a long while was the zombie: the person under the spell behaving in a mindless manner. White Zombie is important in the history of zombology as the first Hollywood zombie film. It’s very creaky and slow now, but the sets are stunning, and it’s pretty clear about that aspect of turning a lovely young lady into a zombie to do what you want!"

Director: George A. Romero

"It’s easy to forget that the whole idea of the cannibal-flesh-eating-zombie-plague-holocaust thing was completely made up by Romero. So hats off to him! He didn’t even call them zombies in NOTLD. It was only in Dawn Of The Dead, where a character starts talking about zombies. I remember the first time I saw it in the '70s. My friends and I ran a student film club where we rented and screened prints because it was the only way we could see them in those days. We put NOTLD on at about 1am after a couple of other films, and obviously it was a university cinema full of drunkards, and the first scene is slightly cheesy and people were laughing. By about 20 minutes in it was dead silent; people were absolutely terrified. It's still a very disturbing film. There are very few concessions to enjoyment, and the bleakest ending!"

Director: George A. Romero

"Dawn of the Dead is very entertaining, and it’s the one that put zombies on the map, particularly in Italy, for some reason, but it’s not as frightening as I remember. It’s much more of a comedy: more openly satirical. I watched it recently with my 11 year-old son. He really likes that tune. I think it’s called 'The Gonk'. He goes around singing it all the time now."

Director: Stuart Gordon

"If you call a zombie a dead thing that’s been brought back to life and is a bit pissed off about it, I think Re-Animator counts. The director Stuart Gordon came from the theatre in Chicago, and he was a real leading light on the directing and producing side, and he’s fantastically good with actors: he gets great performances and great casts. So even though Re-Animator was very grungy and low-budget, it’s very well-made and it’s got great performances. Gordon’s also very good at that juxtaposition of the very nasty and the very funny. He made a film of one of my books, King Of The Ants. Brian Yuzna did all the Re-Animator sequels, and Society. I don’t know why that film isn’t more well-known. It’s extraordinary. I remember not really believing it the first time I saw it. I need to get that and show it to my kids. It’s a fine family film!"

Director: Edgar Wright

"We have to have this on the list. It’s an homage to Romero obviously, but it was such an inspired idea to do a full-on zombie apocalypse but in that deadpan, small, suburban way that Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright do so well. I’m so angry that it was them that came up with the idea and not me. As a big zombie fan I loved it all the way through. I know some people say that they like it at the start when it’s funny, but then later on when they’re holed up in the pub it becomes “just” a zombie film. But I love watching zombie films so I didn’t mind that at all.

There are some great moments, like beating up the old guy with the pool cues to 'Don’t Stop Me Now', and the argument about whether the gun’s loaded. But it is quite frightening at times, and you do care about the characters. Plus there’s a proper entrail dismemberment. It’s a good route into other zombie films too. A lot of the kids I’ve done events with have seen it. It’s considered acceptable!"

Director: Danny Boyle

"My books have been described as '28 Days Later for kids', because they are set in a post-diseased London where half the population’s been wiped out and there are these diseased adults wandering around trying to eat children. My Infected are slow. I do prefer slow zombies: I find them more frightening. I thought that first moment of panic in 28 Days Later when you see a fast zombie was really nicely done, but after a while I do just love the classic thing of being stuck inside somewhere with the zombies trying to get in slowly, and no matter how many you splatter out of the way, there are going to be more coming in behind. It’s just the relentlessness of it that I like. But 28 Days was great in reviving British horror movies. And it showed yet another way of doing a zombie story, although I know some people get very cross if you call them zombies in that film. I think “zombie” now has come to mean any kind of marauding cannibalistic adult whose bite is going to infect you."

"I do feel a bit of a fraud because the zombies in my books aren’t actually zombies: they’re diseased, a bit like 28 Days Later. They behave like a textbook Romero-style zombie, but they’re not actually dead people who’ve come back to life. I’ve sort of been promoting myself on the back of zombies. They can’t complain though.

So many fairytales are about children being in terrible situations caused by adults, and The Enemy of the title in my books is very much adults. Teenagers have been so demonised in society recently: we’re all supposed to be terrified of them and told that if we walk out of our front doors we’ll be stabbed to death. But actually teenagers are in a lot more danger from us than we are from them. I’ve got three teenage boys, and I see them and their friends and I think they’re really good kids. So I wanted very much in my books to redress the balance and show kids able to work together, fighting off this threat from grown-ups. It’s an allegory really. It’s about us adults having to eat our children otherwise they’ll grow up to take our place!

I’m very grateful that I was chosen to write the Young Bond novels, because I was writing books that my boys could read and I ended up having a brand new career at this late stage in life. My boys did enjoy them, luckily. I used to read them to them as I was writing them, particularly at the start, not having written for kids before. The only way to test them out was on my own kids. That’s the main reason they’re so violent! They insisted on lots of death.

Originally there were going to be three 'Enemy' books, and then I told Puffin that the story was kind of expanding and I wanted to make it four. And now I’m up to having seven mapped out, and I’m still no nearer to the end…"

The Fear is out now from Penguin Books. Click here to watch the booky trailer.